Thursday, March 05, 2009


A retired teacher from the Millard Public Schools contacted KFAB this morning to reveal consternation over an administrative order never to give a student a 0, D or F on any assigned project, no matter if the kid did absolutely nothing.

Why not? Because there is no such thing as "failure" with Outcome-Based Education. That's the educational philosophy that is now in place in Millard and all other public school districts in Nebraska and around the nation. When OBE became a controversial term, they renamed it "standards-based education," or "performance-based," but it's the same thing.

You are supposed to let a child who didn't try the first time on a test or assignment come back and try, try, try again, as many times as it takes, to pass a test or complete a paper or build a project or show up at group meetings for school. School has pretty much morphed from a traditional grading system with !-F into a "Pass/Fail" system, where an "A" signifies only that you met the outcome, and a "C" signifies that you met it, but barely, and it took a while.

Now imagine how that translates into the job world. Take a reporter: so you get all the facts wrong on your Page One story, misspell the mayor's name, and cause someone to commit suicide because you got the facts wrong?

Oh, well, that's OK: you can rewrite that story tomorrow, and fix most of your fact errors. And if you leave a few misspelled words in place, oh, well, you tried: it's the "process," not the "product," that matters, right?

Where on Earth did all of this come from?

In the “school restructuring” that took place about 15 years ago in the Clinton Administration (remember Goals 2000, the precursor to No Child Left Behind?), the Millard school system was one of the school districts around the nation to pilot Outcome-Based Education, the “no child shall fail” philosophy. The key change was that teaching reading mainly with phonics was banished, and instead, the Whole Language philosophy was instituted. Result: serious disabilities to kids' literacy, numeracy and thinking skills.

But Whole Language and Outcome-Based Education were such juicy fads, taught in federally-funded teacher inservices like crazy throughout the 1990s, and meant so many more school jobs for the unions, since so many more adults were needed to work in these deformed school systems to try to pick up the pieces that the social engineering created in ill-educated kids, that those destructive philosophies have now spread all over, and we are all seeing the destructive consequences.

I believe, but can't prove, that Westside was one of those districts that piloted the all-day kindergarten and special education "inclusion" components of this massive restructuring process, and the Omaha Public Schools tried out the "English Language Learners" component.

I think Papillion-LaVista tried out the School-to-Work / job training aspects, and the state as a whole was a model for the electronic portfolios that are now rearing their ugly heads around the country.

Other districts around the state and the country tried out other aspects of what I call "school deform" and then they were implemented with federal grants to local and state school systems over the past several years, until the "restructured" educational system that we have now took shape.

With OBE, we changed from a traditional school system with A-F grades to a standardized system in which there’s a pre-set, canned curriculum. It’s pretty much pass or fail – master it, or don’t. That’s why we have 40 “valedictorians” at graduation, since all you have to do to get an A any more is to show up breathing, pretty much, and we have high school graduates who read, write and figure on about a fourth-grade level, but still have those diplomas.

It's considered a better way to prepare kids for the job world, although of course it's foolish since it minimizes academics, individual effort, initiative and most of all, the 3 R's.

I was one of the parents who fought this in the Legislature along with then-State Sen. and later Auditor Kate Witek, but it was steamrollered from Washington, the educators didn’t understand and opposed us, and we lost. At one point, she had to be escorted from a public meeting by security personnel, it got so bad.

When Outcome-Based Education became controversial because of our opposition, they just changed the name to “standards-based education.” But it’s the same thing. Instead of “outcomes,” schools are still forced to teach to the “standards.” That’s what was up with all those “standards” that the State Board of Ed has put in place – all dumbed down and not helpful.

I don’t think our daughters missed a single math problem ‘til they got into high school, it was so easy. Our youngest was an average student at the private Christian school at which we started her, since they taught reading with phonics and no public school in Nebraska does. But now that we’ve moved her into public school, she is far and away the best reader in her class. And that public school is spending about three times as much per pupil as her private Christian school did.

The only hope for smart students is to read a lot of books on their own time, participate in complementary education activities after school and on weekends (see my new website, www.AfterSchoolTreats.com) and kind of home-school themselves as much as they can.

There are also AP and honors classes to look forward to in high school, but it’s a loooooong wait ‘til then.

What’s the answer? School choice with no strings attached – give each child who wants to attend a private school or be homeschooled a voucher for 50% of the state aid and local property tax funding that would otherwise go to the public school. If we did that, we'd encourage some educational entrepreneurship -- I'd be among those who'd open a school if I could have a reliable funding source of, say, $4,000 per pupil per year, and could supplement with grants and fund-raising pretty easily.

Then we’d save taxpayers countless millions of dollars, create some much-needed competition in Nebraska's K-12 educational world, give kids a chance at a better education, give teachers an opportunity to be paid what they're really worth if they can get out from under union seniority rules, and involve parents a lot more in their children’s educations since, like the rich – including President and Mrs. Obama – they’d have a choice in where their children would go to school and would be treated as a customer, not a clueless idiot.

I really don't see a down side to school choice, as long as there are no governmental strings attached that would distort the curriculum or assessment processes unduly. Think of it as like the G.I. Bill. And let's get it going!

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School vouchers would certainly improve our schools through competition. The good schools would prosper, the poor ones would suffer. Public schools would have to shape up or close. No more monopolies.

President Obama sent his daughters to an expensive private school, yet his so-called stimulus package reportedly killed the modest voucher program in Washington, D.C. Why should only the wealthy have school choice? Mainly because teachers unions hate vouchers, and they support the Democratic Party for the most part.Teachers unions and many education executives put the unions and their own power bases before the welfare of students.Why else would they oppose vouchers?
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